Disney's Anne Sweeney wasn't afraid to embrace the future

Disney's Anne Sweeney wasn't afraid to embrace the future
Disney Media Networks Co-Chair Anne Sweeney is stepping down. (Mike Windle / Getty Images)

While other television executives have often viewed new technologies and platforms with fear and trepidation, Disney Media Networks Co-Chair Anne Sweeney embraced them.

Sweeney, who announced Tuesday that she is leaving Disney next January after 18 years to pursue a career in television directing, recognized before many other media executives that viewing habits were going to change rapidly in the 21st century.

In 2005, Disney and ABC were the first to reach an agreement to sell TV shows via Apple’s iTunes. At the time, there was fear that such a move could hurt ratings and upend the television business model, which is based primarily on revenue from advertising and rerun sales.

But Sweeney figured it was more important to be where the audience was going than to hope to keep them glued to the big screen.  A year later, ABC became the first network to offer its shows to viewers on the Internet. There were cries of outrage from some ABC affiliates and pay-TV distributors, but now all the networks have embraced the Internet to reach viewers.

More recently, ABC recently started offering linear streams of its local TV stations to viewers who have subscriptions to a pay-TV provider.

Disney Chairman Bob Iger said Sweeney "has been a great partner in leading our industry into the digital age."


Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.